Google Co-Founder and CEO Larry Page made clear on Thursday the lofty expectations the company has for its new social networking site Google+.
During a conference call to discuss the company's third quarter financial results, Page outlined the significant effect he foresees Google+ having on the company's business.
"Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience -- making it beautifully simple, almost automagical, because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly," he said.
"This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that we build a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff. You’ll have better, more relevant search results and ads," he added.
Although it has been clear since its launch in June that Google+ is a key initiative at Google, Page's latest comments leave no doubt that much is riding on the success of the social networking site.
"Think about it this way: last quarter, we shipped the 'Plus', and now we’re going to ship the Google part," he said.
Of course, now comes the hard part: Developing Google+ in a manner that leads it to attain a critical mass of users and makes it a real contender to Facebook.
Although Page expressed much excitement on Thursday about the fact that Google+ now has topped 40 million members, success is far from certain.
After all, Facebook has more than 800 million members, and its growth shows no sign of slowing down -- on the contrary. And since the launch of Google+, Facebook has been aggressively rolling out new and upgraded features.
Some industry observers have pointed out that Google+ needs features that give it a marked differentiation from Facebook, such as unique functionality that is compelling enough to prompt hundreds of millions of people to make it their preferred social network.
This week, a Google engineer named Steve Yegge mistakenly published publicly a post in which he leveled some sharp criticism at Google+, calling it "a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking" in large part because it lacks a strong developer platform.
Data analytics company Chitika recently published results of a study that revealed that Google+ traffic has deflated, following a spike after the social networking service came out of a limited beta on Sept. 20, and fallen back to the usage level it had before becoming publicly available.
In short, the consensus seems to be that Google+ runs the risk of ending up as a good social networking site that tens of millions of people use but that doesn't come close to matching Facebook's position in the market.
In that scenario, Google+ would fall short of the grand vision Page painted for it on Thursday. Google would be left facing the rising threat of Facebook as an advertising competitor, as a close partner of Microsoft, and as the gatekeeper of a lot of online data that is off limits to the Google search engine.
In the coming year, it will be fascinating to see Google strive to make Google+ the formidable service that Page envisions -- and that the company needs.
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